Democrats pitch Keep it in the Ground bill to prohibit new fossil fuel extraction

The bill would ban coal, oil and gas extraction on US public land and is symbolic, as it has no chance of passing a Congress dominated by Republicans

Legislation that would ban coal, oil and gas extraction on US public land has been introduced in Congress in a timely act of Democratic defiance to the legal threat looming over Barack Obama’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The Keep it in the Ground Act would prohibit the digging or drilling for fossil fuels on federal land or waters. A Senate version of the act has the support of several senior Democrats, including presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.

The bill, which has 16 Democratic co-sponsors in total, states that global warming has already had a “significant impact” on the US economy and that to avoid a dangerous 2C (about 4F) increase in global temperatures, at least 80% of carbon from known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground.

Introduction of the bill is a symbolic act as it has no chance of passing a Congress dominated by Republicans who have accused the US president of waging a “war on coal” that harms American jobs. But the bill is a signifier of Democratic intent to aggressively push forward climate change policy, beyond even that proposed by the Obama administration.

“Our nation’s capacity to transition towards clean energy sources is expanding at a record pace,” said congressman Jared Huffman, who introduced the bill. “However, there is still much to be done to break our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.

“Our oceans and our public lands, including the fossil fuel deposits beneath them, belong to the American people, not to the oil and gas industry, and it’s time that the law reflects that fact. There is an urgent need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if we want to protect the planet for future generations.”

Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Keeping unleased fossil fuels in the ground on public lands and waters is the first step towards avoiding the worst impacts of climate disruption and safeguarding our natural heritage.”

On Tuesday, Obama’s plan to use the Environmental Protection Agency to limit emissions from power plants suffered a setback when the supreme court decided to block the initiative following a legal challenge launched by 29 states. The White House said it is confident the unusual decision to “stay” a regulation was a “bump in the road” and that the US will be able to meet its commitments made at the landmark Paris climate deal in December.

The president’s administration has also temporarily suspended new coalmining leases on public land, although the Keep it in the Ground Act goes further by permanently banning extraction of all fossil fuels. Under Obama, the steady decline in US oil production has been reversed, with the Department of Interior proposing that a controversial new frontier in drilling be opened up in Atlantic waters.

The president’s last budget, however, does propose a $10.25 per barrel tax on oil in order to pay for a $32bn, 10-year plan to upgrade mass transit and develop clean vehicle research, including driverless cars. Renewable energy research funding should double to $12.8bn by 2021, according to Obama’s budget.

But Republicans are unlikely to support much, if any, of this agenda, with the House speaker, Paul Ryan, labelling the oil tax proposal “dead on arrival”.

“Once again, the president expects hard-working consumers to pay for his out-of -touch climate agenda,” Ryan said. “A $10 tax for every barrel of oil produced would raise energy prices, hurting poor Americans the most.

“President Obama is still on a mission to destroy a major backbone of the US economy. The president should be proposing policies to grow our economy instead of sacrificing it to appease progressive climate activists.”


Oliver Milman

The GuardianTramp

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